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US Sanctions Syria, Int'l Firms on Illicit Arms Trade

The US State Department has imposed sanctions on the Syrian Army, Syrian Navy, and Hizballah as well as Chinese, Iranian, Mexican, and Malaysian companies based on "credible evidence" they had been involved in illicit weapons transfers. A Pakistani man named Arif Durrani was also on the list. All are accused of "selling to or buying from Iran or Syria missile technology or material to make weapons of mass destruction."

The sanctions are considered "largely symbolic because many of the targets are already subject to U.S. sanctions for previous similar transactions." But it is the first time the Syrian Army, Syrian Navy, and Hizballah have been listed specifically for sanctions.

Following a visit from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that he would "gladly" meet with US Secretary of State Rice, though she has refused to meet with Syrian officials. "Of course I'll meet her, if she wants to meet me," he said. Earlier this month, Muallem met with various members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of both parties, who defied the Executive Branch's in-place foreign policy.

Attack in Ethiopia: 74 Killed, 7 Chinese Hostages Taken

The Ogaden National Liberation Front claimed responsibility for a pre-dawn attack on an Ethiopian oil field near the Somali border. The attack killed 65 Ethiopians and 9 Chinese oil workers, and seven Chinese workers were kidnapped as Ethiopian troops search for them. China has "strongly condemned" the attack.

The ONLF denied kidnapping the Chinese workers, choosing instead to characterize it as a sort of 'protective custody. ' A statement from the group said, "They have been removed from the battlefield for their own safety and are being treated well."

Eritrea on Monday denied releasing kidnapped Ethiopians recently, as charged by Ethiopia. Eritrea has claimed that the kidnapping was carried out by Ethiopians, even though the five Europeans also kidnapped last month "were freed in [the Eritrean capital] Asmara 12 days later, but their Ethiopian guides were held until Sunday."

Hamas Attacks Israel, Ends Truce

Hamas' Izzadeen al-Qassam Brigades' Abu Obaida said, "The truce no longer exists." He declared its truce with Israel over after Hamas terrorists launched a barrage of rockets and mortars into Israel's Negev desert from all along the Gaza border. Over "40 rockets and 70 mortar shells" were fired according to Stratfor reporting. Surely not a coincidence, he Attack occurred on Israel's 59th Independence Day.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the barrage is believed to have been a cover for a larger operation designed to abduct yet another Israeli soldier. Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement vaguely referencing this, saying that the IDF had thwarted "another terrorist attack by means of a large-scale operation."

The Palestinian Authority president, Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, tried to reassure Israel and the international community that Hamas' truce violation will not be repeated, but Abbas has no control over Hamas and little influence over its leadership.

Musharraf Caves to Red Mosque Demands

The head of the Pakistani Muslim League, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, "paid a surprise visit to Lal Masjid and met its in-charge Maulana Abdul Aziz and deputy in-charge Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi." He announced to them that the Pakistani government is prepared to accpeted their demands in full, including the implementation of Sharia Law in Pakistan. He added to the press that all issues with the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) have been resolved.

President Musharraf has accused the mosque recently of sheltering suicide bombers. The mosque also announced recently that its 3,000 female 'students' barricaded inside were prepared to martyr themselves to fight the Musharraf government and see Sharia Law installed in Pakistan.

This makes curious that PML president Shujaat then "denied the presence of activists of banned outfits and illegal arms in the mosque," a somewhat nuanced statement that can be seen as the Musharraf government's total capitulation once again in the face of pro-Taliban Islamist demands. The PML is Musharraf's political base and currently holds a majority in the Pakistani parliament.

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